Tim and Barbara Johnson have owned Cooter Brown’s Rib Shack in Jacksonville for nearly 20 years. They left their respective careers in law enforcement and cosmetology after purchasing the restaurant. Cooter Brown’s is known for its ribs, but also for the sign on the side of the restaurant that typically has a funny quip.
Tell us about your occupation before purchasing Cooter Brown’s.
Tim Johnson: I served 3 ½ years in the Army as a military police officer. We were stationed in Germany for the entire time of my service. I was a police officer in Gadsden for nine years, and I decided I wanted to open my own business, found this place, and the rest is history.
Barbara Johnson: I went to Gadsden State for a while and met Tim. … I went to school for cosmetology; I was doing hair when we bought Cooter Brown’s.
How did you decide to purchase Cooter Brown’s?
TJ: We just wanted something different and wanted to own our own business. I had gotten burned out working as a police officer, which does not take long.
BJ: I was pretty happy with my job (laughter).
TJ: My sister would come over here and eat often, and she told us it was for sale, so we came over one night to check it out.
What has been the hardest lesson about owning a restaurant?
TJ: It is totally consuming, especially for the first 10 years. It is overwhelming how much time you spend here. … When we bought it in 2000, it was more of a bar that had food instead of a restaurant with alcohol. We have turned that around; kids come in here a lot.
The walls are decorated with license plates and law enforcement patches. How did you decide on that element?
TJ: The license plates were here when we bought Cooter Brown’s, and we have added to that since. Since the Center for Domestic Preparedness started coming here, they are the ones who started adding the military and law enforcement patches. It has been pretty neat to see the places people come from; we have tags from every state. Someone will come in and eat, and a few weeks later, they will send in a license plate.
Tell us about the sign.
TJ: When we first started, we had a horrible sign. The first month we were here, somebody threw beers through it and busted it. We wanted to have a great sign. Deciding what to put on our sign is a joint effort, and it always has been. Employees and managers will suggest funny lines for it. My son has started helping us come up with ideas, as well.
What has been your favorite quip on the sign?
TJ: I always liked “Ugly building. Good food.”
BJ: The ones that are my favorite are the funny ones, like the ones about the pork butts. You can always write a butt joke.
Faith Dorn is a freelance writer in Anniston. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.